Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Art in images

Films about art. Is that fun? Does it work? Is it possible to visualize other forms of art and, indeed, tell an interesting story about it? Without getting into a deep discussion about the subject, I would like to plead in favour of these films. And even that, although not every film succeeds in its attampt, there are beautiful examples that argue my point of view.

Starting with Untitled. A somewhat bizar movie, that premiered in the US in 2009 and took two years before getting to the Amsterdam art house cinema scene, about two failed New York artists. Failed might not be the right word though. When are you a failure? Adrian composes avant-garde music, where people have to kick buckets, where clarinet players have to scream and where paper is being torn in two. Is brother Josh makes paintings of dots and circles. His work can be seen everywhere: in hotels, in banks, at all these different places where no one expects art and where no one experiences his paintings as art. "I give myself three more years, if I haven't made it by then," Adrian says, "-then you take a job," replies his brother. "No, then I kill myself."
The great things about Untitled are the meaningless conversations, the semi intelligent comments, the superior critics, that all show you exactly what you've been thinking all along: the world of art is one big fantasy world, in which no one really knows what he or she is doing, As an ultimate proof of this, there's the artist that makes art of the world around him. By putting name tags on stuff, saying that they are exactly what they are. "Wall surrounding space." "Pencil." Instead of bringing the ordinary world into a museum, like Duchamps did, he turns the world into a museum.

Later this week, I saw Howl, about Allen Ginsbergs poem, which he wrote in the fifties. After it got published, the explicit language caused a lot of commotion, and the publisher got sued for obscene language. Next to Ginsbergs story, filmed in a documentary style, in black and white, the film also shows the trial in color. The nonchalance and artistry of an artist and his world against the official world of 'grown-ups', where people discuss terms like context, intention and use - in art. Does a poet need to use certain words, or could he use other words that just as well could describe is story, but in a decent way? The rythm of the film comes from the recitation of Howl by the actor playing Ginsberg, in a small, smokey room, in the presence of his friends, still unaware of the impact that his words will have later on. His words, that gain more meaning in other pieces of the film, the speed, the volume. And next to that, animations, that clarify the story of the poem even more.

Untitled made me happy, but also slightly depressed by the meaninglessness of art, but Howl is inspiring, exciting, provocative. Art is a personal experience, as was obvious when my movie friend started to roll a cigaret near the end of the film. When I pointed at it with a surprised look on my face, he whispered: "I think it will finish in a minute."

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Although I love Dutch FIlm, and especially the Dutch Documentary Film, when it really comes down to it, I must admit I'm rather sarcastic. I'm too childish to leave factual inaccuracies behind, which makes it hard to really get into the story, and often, I've seen the actors so many times before, that I keep having thoughts like 'That Barry Atsma guy isn't getting any younger' or 'What new project is Carice van Houten working on right now?' That last argument could also count for Films in general, not only the Dutch versions, but I blame the size - or the lack of it - of the Netherlands here. I don't ever think these thoughts when I see Johnny Depp or Heath Ledger in a film.

After Sonny Boy, the last Dutch film I saw this winter, I decided I was done with Dutch Films. So when the media campaign of the movie Rabat started, I didn't feel any urge to rush to a movie theatre to see this new Dutch Pearl. The hip-ness of the producers Habbekrats doesn't interest me, and vaguely, parts of that other cool Dutch movie forced themselves into my mind. A movie that actually kept me out of the theatres for a while, or one in particular, the one that specializes in Dutch movies, since I got so frustrated while watching that I couldn't stop commenting during the film, after which I was afraid to return to that place.

But faith brought me and Rabat together. On a very pleasant evening, that started with the vegetarian version of Kebabs and a Morrocan mint tea to get into the right vibe. In the beginning, I watched with bated breath. The sound wasn't really good and the 'real' Morrocan accent sometimes was difficult to understand. But once the guys started driving, and when they apparently realized they had to change something about the sound, and once you get used to the accent, it turns into a great road movie!

With beautiful images, really, beautiful, and great scenes. With characters that you start to love along the way and with all the Big Themes that belong to road movies.

I had a wonderful time. Apparently, it is possible, great Dutch movies. But I wonder if it's a coincidence that this film was made on a tiny budget, with a lot of love and little pretentions. Especially in a time where Dutch actors and artists walk a March for Civilization, these guys show us that the Art that really HAS to be made, will be made. Hey cat, right on!

Monday, June 20, 2011


In my opinion, in the Dutch society, it's all about your education and the job you're doing.
When first meeting someone, the first question usually is: "what do you do?", which you are supposed to answer by telling about your profession, and not with the things that you're actually doing at that time (well, I just shook your hand, we're talking, I'm at a party, I'm in a bar). And by talking about your profession, you tell them who you are. "I'm a doctor' means: I make a good living, I own a nice house, I have a subscription to the magazine 'Doctors and cars', I have a high endurance, I'm very good at remembering Latin words, I chose chemistry in high school and if necessary, I can save someone. "I'm a cashier at the supermarket" can either mean that you're a middle aged woman, who's older husband suddenly drove her crazy when he retired, which made her decide to leave the house and get a job herself, or you're a teenage girl, who works on Saturdays and who checks out less beers for her boyfriend so they both can drink enough before going to a party later that night.

I know that I'm modest in using prejudices.
But that's because these are the prejudices that torture me when I try to define what I do and therefor who I am. When I answer hesitantly that "later, when I'm a grown-up, I want to make films", people always ask next: "Oh, did you go to film school?". No, dear, I didn't. I've studies long enough and worked even longer since to not wanting to return to school and have classes with nineteen year olds. This answer doesn't help the conversation. Neither does elaborating about how this legitimacy of my efforts to creativity is exactly what is on my mind for years now, and that this is what is keeping me from choosing it so I can be who I want to be.

A dear friend of mine in New York - the city where everyone can be who they want to be and where people react to my first answer (later, grown-up, film making) with the comment: "that's great, what kind of films?", after which a nice conversation about film making can start - I learned that I have to reply in a simple way: "No, I did it differently, I did it on my own terms and just started filming".

The next video was very inspiring to me, where Shea Hembrey talks about the hundered artists he invented. After deciding to organize an international art show, and then realizing how difficult it was to find good artists, he decided to make up the artists himself and make their art. Especially the way he talks about his characters is great: for him, they are all alive.

As long as you convinced yourself, and believe in it, I think it comes down to that. So, starting now, when someone asks me what I do: I make films, I write and I make collages. What about you?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Subway Musicians

New York is music. The city has a rhytm, a sound, a swing. At your first arrival you want to dance, because you're in New York! After spending some time in the city, you slowly discover each neighbourhood has its own melody, its own genre.
Times Square and its surroundings feels like a piece of Philip Glass, a busy, constantly repeating built up of sound, that sometimes seems to disappear for a moment, but that will return even louder than before. Chelsea sounds like the old Standards of Sinatra and Garland, swinging, longing, sometimes exited. Williamsburg is bursting of modern pop and the Upper West Side has a somewhat stiff opera sound. Bed-Stuy is of course rap. Rap 'n Roll.

Not only above ground, but also underneath, there is music. Everywhere. It's almost impossible to find a train station that hasn't a musician in it, who fills the narrow hallways with his voice or his instrument. Musicians, wanna-be musicians and true geniuses are performing everywhere, in the hope to earn some money. Some have other jobs to attend, others live from the life underground.

The subway musicians made the soundtrack of my travels through the city. On my way to work, the toothless Cuban and the melancholic music of his home country, would start my day in a special way. On my way back home, the two hipster boys and their happy songs would make me forget about my hunger, the drummer on 6th Ave and 14th st, whose sounds were hearable from afar, would fill up the train tubes all the way to Union Square and Joe, who regularly could be found at Metropolitan Station, didn't only fill my heart with his music, but, unknowingly, created even more love during a spontaneous jam session.

I filmed them, the subway musicians who give more color to New York. Hours of clips, of people perfroming their passion with love, are waiting to be edited into a story. And of course, I'm not the only one who sees them. The number of film makers, wanna-be film makers and geniuses that have just as much and even more material is countless. Although I'd rather be the only one to make a film about this subject (apart from Hedy Honigman who made the beautiful film The Underground Orchestra years ago), I realised that all the stories that are being filmed, together tell the real story. Or, at least, come close to the real story, that exists of all those different stories of musicians, listeners and travelers.

Two of the first musicians I filmed.

And this is a film about my New York subway friends

Monday, June 13, 2011


Everything and everyone seems to be focussed on only one thing nowadays: happiness. Every magazinehas at least one article about how to reach it, some are even devotedto the subject. At Barnes and Noble, both Philosophy and Religion and Inspiration are filled with paperbacks and hardbacks that lead you in x steps closer to this desirable state of being. TED offers hours of inspiring speeches about exactly those steps and other succesful experiments.

It's possible to spend days and weeks learning about happiness. But then what? After spending all that valuable time, that you could also have spend sitting in the sun with your love or with friends and good food, on a huge amount of information. Then what?

Will you start using all the advice you got? Will you make a list, so you can check of the things you've done - because that's what makes the average person happy - and did you put some simple tasks on that list - because that makes you feel satisfied and leads to more action? Or do you try to let go of everything - because only than, real happiness appears - and do you move to a mountain in Asia to start meditating in a colorful dress - because there, people understand happiness better?

Let me be clear: I've spend many hours of reading articles and watching films that inspire for a happier life. Of course, I would do anything to make my life even richer. Because I also need to say: I'm pretty happy already. One of my friends rolled his eyes and asked: "Oh, no, not one of those books about how small things make you happier and spending time in the sun with friends and good food does too?" I just started talking about The Happiness Project, a book by Gretchen Rubin, who experiments with little changes in her life to become an even happier person.

On one hand, of course he's right. We've heard it all before. On the other hand, I do believe that you cannot hear it too many times. Because apparently, listening is pretty hard and it's not that easy to start making those little changes. Rubins book show how you don't have to change your life to become a happier person. A little more sleep, a little more love and attention can make a huge difference already. And that, I believe, is not a bad message to all those people - including me - who sometimes wonder: what to do now?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


The alarm goes at eight, for half an hour of snoozing. Too warm. Too cosy.
Too late. Douche, tea, down the stairs with wet hair.
Two blocks to Lafayette, take a left to Bedford. Hi men at the bodega. Hi men at the bus stop.
Down the stairs. To the fright down stairs. Walk to the end because the train only stops there. Waiting.
Getting in. Standing at the door on the other side.
Myrtle-Willoughby. Flushing. Broadway. Metropolitan.
Watch other people.
Walk up the stairs, against the line of people trying to get down. Running along with the rest.
Down and up the stairs. Listening if the train is coming already.
Walk to the second posters on the platform.
Getting in. Trying to find a seat.
Bedford. 1st Ave. 3rd Ave. Union Square. 6th Ave.
Getting out and take the stairs to the left. Hoping the F is about to arrive.
Walk up to the wooden bench. Maybe see a subway performer to film.
Getting in. Standing in the isle.
Get out and walk up the stairs on the left.
Fresh air. Rain or sun? Right turn to 6th Ave.
Cross the street halfway down the block if the traffic allows it.
A large earl grey tea with milk please.
Cross 24st
Walk towards the green canopy. Paws in Chelsea.
Leave the barking dogs down stairs and take the elevator to the second floor.
Let the day begin.